Fair trade or free trade? Let your voice be heard on Minnesota’s future!
The Obama Administration is negotiating two new mega trade deals (one with Pacific Rim countries, another with Europe) entirely in secret, with the goal of further expanding the NAFTA-model of free trade. These trade agreements could have major impacts on Minnesota's farmers, workers, small business owners and rural communities. They could limit Minnesota’s ability to support local food and energy systems and grow local businesses. In order to stay up to speed, Minnesota has set up a new Trade Policy Advisory Council (TPAC) to advise the state legislature and Governor.
TPAC wants to hear from Minnesotans: What concerns do you have about free trade? What role could TPAC play in the future? Now is your opportunity to have a say in our future trade policy. Complete the survey and let them know future trade negotiations should be public, not secret. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard in the development of trade agreements and that they protect local control and our quality of life. The free trade model has failed for Minnesota and we need a new approach to trade. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard before trade agreements are completed, and that they protect local control, our natural resources and our quality of life.
Posted November 28, 2012 by
Two new studies published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology document routine exposure to toxic flame retardants in household dust and furniture. The first study, conducted by the Silent Spring Institute, found 55 chemicals in household dust, including chlorinated tris, a carcinogen, at levels exceeding EPA health guidelines. HBCD (HBCYD), listed as priority chemical in Minnesota, was found in every home. Because the study included dust samples from 2006 and 2011, it documented changes in flame retardant use over time. For example, penta-BDE was phased out of use in polyurethane foam in 2005, after it was found to be persistent, toxic and build up in the environment, food system and human body, but it was been replaced with alternatives that are themselves problematic. Levels of penta-replacement chemical, Firemaster 550, increased in 2011. This is concerning because safety data on Firemaster 550 are lacking and there is evidence of reproductive harm. Another toxic chemical found in household dust, chlorinated tris, is also a penta-replacement in foam used in infant products like breastfeeding pillows and changing table mats.
The second study illustrates one source of some toxic flame retardants in household dust. The researchers tested foam samples from 102 couches around the nation, including two from Minnesota. The couch study found that 85 percent of U.S. couches tested contained toxic or untested flame retardant chemicals. It also found that 41 percent of the couches contained the same cancer-causing chlorinated tris, also known as TDCPP, including one of the Minnesota couches tested. Emily Moore, the owner of that couch, noted, “When I bought a new couch a few years ago, I had no idea I was going to be exposing my family to chlorinated tris, a chemical that was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s as a mutagen and likely carcinogen. Why should I have to worry about letting my little granddaughter sit and lie on that couch? It's crazy.“
We should be concerned. The chemicals found in household dust and couches include those that persist and build up in the environment, as well as carcinogens, hormone disrupters and developmental toxins. Some of these chemicals are listed as chemicals of high concern in Minnesota, including HBCD, deca-BDE, chlorinated tris (TDCPP), brominated tris (TDBPP) and others.
Beyond concern, we need action to protect our families and to protect public health. For tips on reducing your exposure to flame retardant chemicals in the home, see the Silent Spring and Healthy Legacy websites.
While it’s important to take precautions as consumers, we also need fundamental reform of chemical regulation at both the state and federal levels. The Safe Chemicals Act would require basic safety data on all chemicals to assure that manufacturers are not replacing one toxic chemical with another and to phase out the worst chemicals that build up in our food. In Minnesota, we can pass the next phase of the Toxic Free Kids Act to require the phase out of priority chemicals in children’s products. Sign up to receive information or get involved.
Posted November 27, 2012 by
The money in your mug. The nickel in your nip. The cashflow in your cup. What’s the connection and what does it have to do with you?
After oil, coffee is the world’s most traded commodity. Globally, over 25 million farmers grow coffee to support themselves and their families. Many of these growers are very small, with a typical Fair Trade coffee farmer growing on less than eight acres of land.
At the beginning of each growing season, farmers need to come up with the cash needed to run their farm as the coffee grows, to harvest it and get it to market. Like farmers around the world, they have to finance these costs, as well as cover living expenses year round, even though they only harvest and get paid once a year.
Small-scale farmers have long struggled to access traditional financing. Lacking conventional collateral and access to fairly-priced loans they often have to borrow money from middle-men at exorbitant interest rates that cut into their profits and their ability to meet their families’ most basic needs. Around the world, the annual demand for sustainable trade financing for farmers is estimated at $3 billion. The financing that is actually available to small growers is more like $300 million.
That’s where you come in.
Peace Coffee (which is owned by IATP) and a group of like-minded coffee roasters in the U.S. and Canada are exploring a new way for you to put your money where your mug is. In conjunction with the Grow Ahead Foundation, they are participating in a new model for social trade finance that connects coffee drinkers and others with the farmers who grow their coffee.
Here’s how it works: Individuals and organizations will make short-term loans of $25 or more to farmer cooperativesthat supply Cooperative Coffees, the entity through which Peace Coffee buys its beans. The funds will be lent to growers early in the year to help “pre-finance” the costs they incur over the growing season.
One of the first farmer cooperatives to participate in this unique funding model is APECAFORM, a 400-member co-op in Guatemala. Money is currently being collected to pre-finance coffee that will be harvested in Fall 2013. Once the coffee has been sold and shipped to North America, the farmer association will repay the loans.
Those of us who make a loan can get our funds back at the end of the growing season (e.g., Fall 2013), use the funds to make another loan or turn it into a permanent donation. The loans made to the Grow Ahead fund will be secured through a $200,000 loan guarantee fund provided by the DOEN Foundation in the Netherlands where the Grow Ahead Foundation got its start. You can learn more about the details of the funding mechanism in the video below.
IATP has already made one of the first loans into the Grow Ahead crowd-funding program and we hope that you will join us. So put your money where your mug is! Learn more at www.growahead.org.
Posted November 21, 2012 by Shefali Sharma
The biggest threat for agriculture at the 18th Conference of Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC is the certain likelihood (oxymoron intended) of “non-decisions” for setting ambitious emissions reduction targets for the post-2012 period, when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period expires. Bill McKibben’s widely circulated article Global Warming's Terrifying New Math tells us in starkly clear terms what we need to do to set things right:
We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We'd have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.
McKibben lays out in simple terms what we policy advocates and scientists have failed to do thus far: convince the average citizen in the industrialized world why immediate, ambitious and drastic cuts in our fossil fuel use is necessary to prevent the deadliest impacts of global warming, not just for future generations, but for this generation. Yet, government representatives will be going to the climate talks prepared to take years to cobble together a legally binding deal to cut emissions worth the paper they sign.
We are nearly three-quarters of the way to using the maximum gigatons of carbon scientists thought we could “safely” use until 2050 to prevent catastrophic climate impacts. The time to turn this around is the next sixteen years—this means we must hit our peak fossil fuel use within the next six to seven years, and this is exactly what governments will be discussing in Doha: what to do in the next six to seven years on climate change. For all governments going to the COP, and especially for the United States, this is neither an election issue nor one that will result in a political crisis. Hurricane Sandy might have done more to convince Americans (on the East Coast, anyway) of the consequences of non-action than anything else has to date.
Devastation of agriculture and food systems worldwide, of course, will be one major calamity of this non-action. We already see it in the droughts in the Midwest, the floods in Pakistan and Australia and the erratic weather patterns that are making it difficult for food growers today. All this with just a .8-degree temperature rise in the past century. Scientists now know that even a total two degree temperature rise (the number governments have finally agreed on as the global limit) is too much.
Yet, the discussions in Doha around agriculture are surprisingly not about the devastation of non-action on food systems. The COP 18 discussions will be about how to address agriculture in the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA), a technical body that provides advice and responds to scientific, technological and methodological questions from the COP and the Kyoto Protocol Parties. IATP has long insisted that the primary focus of agriculture discussions in the UNFCCC must be on how agriculture and small producers can adapt to climate change and how this adaptation challenge can be financed. If we truly want to address agriculture emissions, let’s start by setting targets for reducing nitrous oxides and methane from industrial farms and transitioning to agroecological practices. Yet, the World Bank, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and other industrialized countries have pushed since 2008 to find in agriculture another big loophole to hide their actual emissions by developing offsets in the land use and land-use change sectors (which include forestry and agriculture) and trading them on speculative financial markets in the form of carbon credits.
So far, developing countries have stemmed the tide, but the World Bank has been lobbying several developing-country agriculture ministries to influence their environment ministries to say “yes” to a work program that would help them create these carbon offsets. The irony here is that the entire African continent contributes less than 4 percent to the very problem that will devastate their food production systems, meanwhile Africans are being asked to do their bit to mitigate rather than North Americans whose per capita emissions are 14 times that of our counterparts in Africa. Though the very existence of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) and the second commitment period (2013–2020) hang in the balance of the enormous deadlock in the UNFCCC, the last meeting of the Kyoto Protocol Parties (CMP) at COP 17 in Durban requested the SBSTA to start work programmes on 1.) the possibility of expanding the activities that could be included for accounting in LULUCF (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry), i.e., inclusion certain agricultural activities such as soil carbon) 2.) possibilities of expanding the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to include additional land use, land-use change and forestry activities (i.e., soil carbon) and 3.) figure out how to get carbon credits for soil and better credits for forest carbon in the CDM even though science is demonstrating that carbon cannot be stored permanently in agriculture or forest systems for a large number of scientific and technical reasons. Officially, the decision from Durban on this work program was phrased in the following arcane manner:
...a work programme to consider and, as appropriate, develop and recommend modalities and procedures for alternative approaches to addressing the risk of nonpermanence under the clean development mechanism with a view to forwarding a draft decision on this matter to the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol for adoption at its ninth session [in late 2013] (para 7, Decision 2/CMP.7)
In addition, the SBSTA was asked to initiate a work program to determine how to address “additionality” in LULUCF. The program would focus on how governments can prove that the practices being adopted to reduce emissions or absorb carbon in the soil or forests is actually additional to what they would have done in the first place in a business as usual scenario. A critical question here: how would they even know it is additional given the problems related to non-permanence?
McKibben’s math is indeed terrifyingly simple: we have 565 gigatons of carbon as a global community to spend to limit a global temperature rise to 2 degrees (which scientists say is already too much) with a window of time that is closing on us. The coal, gas and oil reserves that have already been bought and paid for, but as of yet remain unused, total 2795 gigatons: five times the number we can justify and still have a livable planet. Keeping that carbon out of the atmosphere, rather than playing shell games with agriculture and forests, and determining equitable burden sharing between developed and developing countries, are the urgent tasks at hand. And, while we are doing that, we need to begin cleaning up the mess that’s already been created, particularly as peasants, fisherfolk and pastoralists struggle to cope with increasing climate chaos.
In contrast, the government representatives that get paid by our tax dollars to negotiate the climate treaty are truly having a difficult time distinguishing the forest from the trees. How long will we allow governments and intergovernmental organizations (who are also paid with tax dollars) to continue this game of smoke and mirrors with carbon sinks and carbon markets? The next six to seven years are literally game changers in humanity’s ability to tackle climate change. It’s time we all (especially us in the United States) made this a clear political mandate for our governments.
Note: IATP will be co-hosting a side-event in the Doha COP, Wednesday, November 28, 20:15-21:45, Rm 9: Agriculture in the Climate Talks and the Food Security Imperative: Which Way to Just Solutions. For IATP publications and resources on agriculture and climate, see our climate issue page.
Posted November 20, 2012 by
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is pleased to announce that we’ve been chosen as a recipient by the USDA’s new Farm to School grant program.
Farm to School efforts that connect K-12 students to foods produced nearby are growing by leaps and bounds. Across the country, more than 12,000 schools are involved. In IATP’s home state of Minnesota, nearly 150 school districts serving two-thirds of Minnesota’s students are now offering locally and regionally grown foods.
With USDA’s support, IATP will begin working on a couple of the key challenges and opportunities now facing the Farm to School movement. One of those challenges is that in the Northern half of the United States the harvest season for fresh fruits and vegetables only partially overlaps with the school year (primarily in September and October). Another is that, while fresh fruits and vegetables have been a very successful starting point for Farm to School procurement, we need to engage a broader swath of the agricultural community and to impact more and more types of food on the tray.
And lastly, we need to complement innovation at the school and district level with more collaboration across multiple districts. School districts acting individually are challenged to have a significant impact on larger supply chains or to create enough demand to support new product development by food entrepreneurs. By working together, districts can identify opportunities for new types of products and collaborate with farmers, food processors and other supply chain players to provide markets for those foods.
Given these realities, IATP will begin two areas of research. First, we’ll explore avenues for more strategically expanding “season extension” methods (such as hoophouses) for growing fruits and vegetables year-round in the Upper Midwest, specifically for the K-12 market place. We will draw from the experiences of growers in our region and also draw insight from regions internationally and domestically where season extension practices are widely used.
Second, we will assess opportunities for regional producers of dried beans, grains and related foods to meet growing K-12 interest in these products. The new federal school meal requirements, which will require greater use of whole grains, legumes and the like, provide a powerful policy lever to expand K-12 demand for these foods. Exploring how suppliers and schools can collaborate in building that market will be core to our analysis.
And lastly, we’ll be partnering with School Food FOCUS, a national network of 34 large urban school districts working to expand the use of regionally grown, sustainably produced, healthful foods in schools. Along with our partners—the St. Paul and Minneapolis Public School districts—we’ll be working together on FOCUS’ newly launched Regional Learning Lab. The lab will enable larger districts stretching from Omaha to Detroit to work shoulder-to-shoulder on school food innovation, including strategies that benefit our farmers and local economies right here, close to home.
We look forward to staying in touch with you as this work progresses. Please keep an eye out for IATP’s forthcoming analysis of another approach to “extending the season”: small and mid-scale strategies for freezing locally grown fruits and vegetables. If you’d like us to email you the report when we release it, just let us know.
Posted November 19, 2012 by Sophia Murphy
I’ve been a feminist all my life. It had something to do with having three brothers and no sisters, perhaps—that and parents who encouraged me to be who I wanted to be. It had to do, too, with the sexism I experienced. The school careers councillor who suggested that it might be awkward to be a diplomat because it would mean my husband would have to follow my career, for example. But of course, I am one of the lucky women. Not only did I have access to an education; so did my mother, and her mother before her, who was one of the first two graduates from her all-girl high school in London to attend university, in 1929. I have my own career, economic independence, a vote, and legal protections that ensure my assets, and my share of the assets I have built with my spouse, are and will be mine—whether I stay married, divorce or am widowed. These are protections and entitlements only too few women enjoy: education, economic independence, a political voice and legal protection. They are essential to allowing women to enjoy their rights.
On Monday 19th November, Oxfam launches a two-week online policy discussion called: Making the food system work for women. Over ten days, ten essays will be presented, each written by a different contributor—I had the chance to write about trade, and former IATP Trade and Global Governance Program Director, Alexandra Spieldoch, makes a pitch for women’s leadership. Other contributors include eco-feminist Vandana Shiva; Jayati Ghosh, feminist economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and ActionAid International’s Director, Joanna Kerr. Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, will provide a concluding analysis.
My piece is an argument for discrimination. The trade system we know, housed at the WTO, is based on non-discrimination: treat all alike. I argue such an approach makes for a good theoretical economic argument, but ignores the real world in which we live. That world is deeply unequal, and perhaps in no way so profoundly as between men and women. Without policies that explicitly address women’s multiple disadvantages in our societies, women will never be able to take advantage of new opportunities to improve their lives. This is not a small detail irrelevant to trade economists, but a foundation stone for a trade system that works and can endure.
I hope you will register for the discussion and participate actively. It promises to be a lively ten days.
Posted November 14, 2012 by Jim Harkness
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has long prided itself as being on the cutting edge of identifying and addressing global issues that affect our daily lives. We analyze complex challenges, bring people together, and work to shift power in our quest for a more democratic, sustainable and just world.
Our ever-vigilant policy analysts report back that there is but one unifying forum recognized around the world for sharing ideas and vision: the cat video.
I invite you to enjoy IATP’s latest production, Chiko, Le Chat Politique.
Please share this important message with your friends. And give now at www.iatp.org/gtmd12.
Thanks to a generous friend of Chiko the cat, all gifts today will be matched dollar for dollar up to $8,000.
Thank you for participating in Give to the Max. Your support makes our work possible. To learn more, go to www.iatp.org/gtmd12.
Jim Harkness, President
The fine print: No cats were harmed in the filming of this video, unless you count licking a McDonald’s cheeseburger. With special thanks to Henri, Le Chat Noir.
Posted November 13, 2012 by
A Harvard study just published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine journal, associates a mother's low level exposure to mercury while pregnant with greater risk of her child later developing ADHD-related behavior.
The research coincides with another study earlier this year that correlated the increased prevalence of ADHD in the U.S.—along with other developmental disorders, including autism—with the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to the American food supply. The link is that until quite recently, it was common for HFCS to be manufactured using mercury-contaminated caustic soda.
Together the findings are leading to closer examination of the myriad toxins that fetuses are exposed to such as lead, nicotine, pesticides, and mercury; science consistently shows such exposures early in life contribute to the development of brain and behavior disorders later in life.
In the case of mercury, exposure from food occurs through the consumption of fish, HFCS and food colors according to a 2009 article published in the Behavioral and Brain Functions journal. Through its website, the U.S. Department of Agriculture records average annual consumption in the U.S. of 9.5 pounds per year of fish and shellfish and 28.7 pounds per year HFCS.
In the recent study, Harvard researchers collected fish consumption data and hair samples from pregnant mothers, testing the latter for mercury. Their children were followed, including neuropsychological testing at 8 years of age to determine signs of inattention, impulsive behavior or hyperactivity—the hallmarks of ADHD. The researchers determined that fish consumption during pregnancy can protect somewhat against ADHD—it's known, for example, that fish and shellfish provide the human body with the essential omega-3 fatty acids required for maintaining neuronal plasticity and learning capacity. But that's not the whole story. As the mother's prenatal exposure to mercury increased in the study, so too did their child's later risk of developing ADHD behaviors.
So, the trick is to eat fish, but to try and avoid mercury. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises women and children to eat smaller fish with lower mercury levels, and avoid eating larger fish of the species containing higher mercury levels. Low-mercury seafoods are species found at the bottom of the food chain: sardines, clam, tilapia, haddock, flounder, squid, salmon, oysters, crab, scallops, sole, trout, shrimp, catfish, crawfish, and anchovies.
On the other hand, HFCS is of no nutritional value. It is the most common "added sugar" in food and drinks, and the most ubiquitous single ingredient in processed foods today. This explains why American eat or drink 28.7 pounds of it each year. In a recent report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that children reduce their dietary intake of all added sugars, including HFCS, to prevent the development of diseases associated with them.
The chlor-alkali chemicals once widely used and perhaps still used to manufacture HFCS can leave trace amounts of mercury in the product, according to researchers in a 2009 article. In Europe, HFCS is not widely consumed and blood mercury levels are much lower in European populations compared to Americans. Consumption of HFCS creates a number of pathways for the development of autism and ADHD. According to a Mercury Toxicity Model published in 2009, the consumption of HFCS can lead to mercury accumulation in the brains and bodies of individuals in certain sensitive populations. This bioaccumulation may occur, for example, when HFCS consumption helps create mineral imbalances that interfere with the elimination of heavy metals such as mercury. When heavy metals accumulate in a child's body, delayed or altered development of the brain and nervous system can occur, and, in some cases behavioral disorders arise. If the child is also diet-deficient in magnesium or calcium, it increases even further the risks to them from accumulated heavy metals.
Fructose consumption also can lead to the development of autism, according to another study, by interfering with the expression of a key gene, called the PON1gene. When normally "expressed" in cells, this gene is responsible for producing a protein or enzyme that breaks down organophosphate pesticides. If not broken down and excreted, these pesticides wreak havoc on the brain and nervous system. While American children continue to ingest organophosphates on fruits and vegetables—especially including from snap beans, watermelons, tomatoes, potatoes, pears, cucumbers, grapes, lettuce and apples—he or she also eat or drinks 28.7 pounds per year of HFCS. It turns out HFCS is the same substance scientists use to suppress PON1 gene expression and create disease conditions in animal experiments.,
Food and diet are key factors in potentially mitigating the interactions between genes and toxins in the environment and protecting against neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and autism. In consuming the standard American diet, the sad truth is that pregnant women cannot realize these protections. Instead, the fast and processed foods so common to this diet contain lead, mercury, pesticides and other toxic substances that may impact fetal brain development.
For families planning to get pregnant, and hoping for the best outcome, here's some simple advice: Try and avoid eating or drinking high-fructose corn syrup and alcohol as well as other chemicals found in processed foods. And, eat fish low in mercury and plenty of whole, organic foods.
But shouldn't an America that struggles to compete economically, to educate top-notch workers for the future, and to cut health-care costs also be helping out these families? No approach to health or education reform is worth its salt without an explicit discussion about the policies we need to raise healthier kids by curbing the use of mercury, pesticides and HFCS—and, hopefully helping to curb the expense of ADHD and related disorders as well.
This blog post was originally published November 9, 2012 by The Huffington Post.
 Ackerman Z, Oron-Herman M, Pappo O, Peleg E, Safadi R, Schmilovitz-Weiss H, Grozovski M: "Hepatic effects of rosiglitazone in rats with the metabolic syndrome." Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol 2010, 107:663-668.
 Costa LG, Giordano G, Furlong CE: "Pharmacological and dietary modulators of paraoxonase 1 (PON1) activity and expression: the hunt goes on." Biochem Pharmacol 2011, 81:337-344.
Posted November 8, 2012 by Ben Lilliston
It didn’t make headlines, but Tuesday was the start of an important movement to reform our food and agriculture system by restoring our democracy. Statewide initiatives in Montana and Colorado, and local measures in Massachusetts, San Francisco, Chicago and Oregon, all opposed the role of corporations in political campaigns; they all passed by convincing margins.
These efforts to get corporate money out of politics are linked to the devastating Supreme Court Citizens United ruling in 2010 (see the Story of Stuff’s great video for the lowdown). That ruling, for the first time, allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to push their issues in political campaigns. IATP and many others issued a statement last week calling to get money out of politics and an end to voter suppression laws.
The Citizens United ruling has unquestionably changed the way campaigns are run—just ask your poor friends in swing states still suffering from political advertisement overload, or browse the Wall Street Journal’s reporting of $560 million in SuperPac money. How campaigns are run affect how politicians govern—particularly in Washington where favors and retribution are a powerful currency.
Though not directly a result of the Citizens United ruling, there is perhaps no better example of the overwhelming influence of corporate money in campaigns than the Proposition 37 vote in California, which would require labeling for genetically engineered foods. Labeling has consistently enjoyed 80–90 percent public approval ratings. After Prop 37 gained significant early traction, the big pesticide and food companies, like Monsanto, DuPont and Pepsico, flew into a panic and flooded the airwaves with misleading ads about the costs of labeling. The Minnesota-based global giant, Cargill, actually wrote to its “farmer customers” encouraging them to donate to defeat Prop 37. These agribusiness and food companies succeeded in essentially buying the election by outspending the opposition $46 million to $9 million. Nevertheless, labeling supporters ran an inspiring grassroots campaign, garnering more than 4 million votes, and have laid the groundwork for future efforts to challenge corporate power in the food system.
Efforts to label genetically engineered food, limit unnecessary overuse of antibiotics in factory farms, antitrust enforcement in agriculture and many other initiatives to shift power in our food and agriculture system will now shift to Washington. These fights will have limited success unless they are linked to efforts to restore our democracy. The wins this week in state and local initiatives supporting the overthrow of Citizens United give us reason for hope.
Posted November 6, 2012 by
This piece is an introduction to a new collection of commentaries by the IATP Food and Community Fellows, originally published on www.foodandcommunityfellows.org. Follow the links below for each piece.
The Norman Rockwell painting “Freedom from Want” is a tribute to one of the four freedoms that President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared people ought to enjoy in his 1941 State of the Union speech. For Roosevelt, this freedom meant having “economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world." His words later influenced the inclusion of the right to an adequate standard of living—which includes a right to food—in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Reading these words 70 years later, we need to recognize that our country of over 300 million people has close to an equal number of images of what "freedom from want" really means. An extended family enjoying an enormous turkey dinner for Thanksgiving is just one idealized perspective from the dominant culture.
With these diverse perspectives come very different ideas for what government’s role should be in achieving a truly just and healthy food system. The past 70 years have brought different actors to our dinner table, most notably agribusiness and food marketers. Given these new dinner companions, how many spaces should be saved for Congress and local government officials?
Many of the IATP Food and Community Fellows argue that corporate interests have been somewhat unruly guests at the table. And unfortunately, we have far too many examples of government being absent from the tables where it is invited and intruding on the tables where it isn’t needed. From international trade agreements to the creation of local food policy councils, however, the clear, resounding proclamation emerging from these commentaries is that participation is required. Whatever your "freedom from want" looks like, we all need to claim our place at the table.
Get engaged and Vote Food!
– Mark Muller, coordinator, Food and Community Fellows program
The Government Should Follow Our Lead on Food
By Jane Black
Food should be the kind of issue on which the government can easily take the lead. But in our hyper-partisan political climate, this just isn't the case.
The Government Can Start With Women and Infants
By Kimberly Seals Allers
Our government remains an active participant in promoting unhealthy food practices for its most vulnerable citizens. Let's start with the first food, breast milk.
Good Policy Means Engaging With Communities
By Kandace Vallejo
There is a productive tension between the belief that policy is a viable mechanism to create change and the belief in innovative grassroots solutions to social problems.
Support Resilient Solutions to Community Food Needs
By Brahm Ahmadi
For a more just and healthy food system, government needs to ensure a balance and parity between government support for large corporations and for small, local businesses.
Nurture Grassroots Food Policy Councils
By Malik Yakini
Governments have to be willing to engage with community-driven efforts to solve problems of racial inequity in our food system.
Make USDA the People's Department
By Cheryl Danley
We need to acknowledge the U.S. agricultural system was built on a foundation of structural racism that has led to the social injustices we face today.
Education is the Answer, for Government as Well as Consumers
By Kelvin Graddick
Healthy eating education efforts are rarely framed in the context of the traditions and culture of the rural black south.
Fund Progressive Food Programs in Cities that Need Them
By Jenga Mwendo
New Orleans needs government support to bring quality food retail businesses to the Lower 9th Ward.
Pass a Farm Bill Now
By Don Bustos
Delaying the passage of this farm bill jeopardizes the fragile policy work done over years by local, state and national groups to make some progress toward a fair, equitable and sustainable agriculture system in this country.
Government Is What We Make Of It
By Nina Kahori Fallenbaum
We shouldn't conclude that historical missteps eliminate the usefulness of government or diminish our need to keep it accountable.
Restrain Corporate Power and Influence in the Food System
By Raj Patel
Perhaps that’s why the most exciting changes in the food system are happening at a municipal and state level. Initiatives like food policy councils are useful first steps in the practice of reimagining how democratic control of the food system might look.
Honor and Restore the Right of the People to Feed Themselves
By Valerie Segrest
For the Coast Salish people of the Pacific Northwest, our traditional food system is inextricably intertwined with our identity, and it’s crucial that government food policies honor that bond.
Would you like more figs with that? Pass a Farm Bill for Farm-to-School
By Rebecca Wiggins-Reinhard
Schools are one major entryway into improving children’s health. Yet, schools have been an outlet for surplus commodities, many of which are designed for a long shelf life, full of sodium and preservatives.
Posted November 2, 2012 by Dr. Steve Suppan
Soon you will be on your way to the Group of 20 finance ministers meeting on November 4–5 in Mexico City. To judge by what has been posted at G-20 websites, you will have reviewed many reports that indicate progress towards fulfilling the Heads of State commitment in September 2009 to place all “standardized Over the Counter derivatives” (OTC) on regulated trading venues “as appropriate” by the end of 2012. However, as the Financial Stability Board has reported to you, this goal will not be met in 2012. Unfortunately, if and when that goal is achieved, it may have small relevance to the broader goal of regulating OTC derivatives, to achieve more transparent and stable markets.
Notwithstanding legislative reforms, and the $29 trillion in emergency loans from the U.S. Federal Reserve system to U.S. and European banks and to central banks from 2007 to 2010, the rescued banks have changed neither their dark-market trading practices nor products. As a September 2012 Bank for International Settlements report informed you, “we find no evidence that rescued banks reduced the riskiness of their new lending.” Part of what enables these rescued banks to elude oversight is the banks’ ever-increasing use of “customized” or “bespoke” OTC derivatives. The putatively “customized” OTC derivatives are of such a large gross notional volume as to induce price volatility that occurs when trader “herd behaviors” try to interpret the rumor of price signals emerging from OTC markets and liquidity that are dark to regulators and to the public.
Given the riskiness of these still unregulated OTC instruments and their unstable markets, it is surprising to read your advice to delay U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) final rulemaking in your letter of October 17 to CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler. You very circumspectly state your concerns about the CFTC guidance on cross-border OTC derivatives, released on July 12. Because your regulatory agencies have already commented separately on this guidance, your joint letter appears to be a political statement about just how far the CFTC should exercise its authority under the “Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010” to prevent foreign affiliate trades of U.S. OTC dealers from having an adverse effect on the U.S. economy.
The passage of legislation on OTC derivatives in the European Parliament and the Japanese Diet that will occur late in 2012 or early in 2013 are important steps towards fulfilling the September 2009 G-20 commitments on standardized OTC derivatives. However, regulations to implement and enforce this legislation are unlikely to be implemented before 2014. In the interim, OTC markets will continue to be unregulated and vulnerable to excessive speculation. Nevertheless, you caution Chairman Gensler “At a time of highly fragile economic growth, we believe it is critical to avoid taking steps that risk a withdrawal of global financial markets into inevitably less efficient regional or national markets.” This implies that the CFTC draft guidance on cross-border OTC derivatives is one of these risky steps. Finally, you urge Chairman Gensler, “before finalizing any rules or enforcing any deadlines, take the time to make sure that U.S. rulemaking works not just domestically but globally.”
Many Dodd-Frank rulemaking deadlines have come and gone, in part due to the need for the CFTC staff to take into account thousands of comments, generated largely by a massive global financial services industry lobbying campaign, as they draft rules. Industry lawsuits have likewise delayed rule implementation and subsequent enforcement. Indeed, the cross-border guidance itself, when finalized, likely will be the subject of an industry lawsuit. The CFTC is already taking more than enough time to develop better regulated markets and enforceable rules to prevent regulatory arbitrage.
Indeed, the G-20 finance ministers should take the time at the November meeting to discuss how to best enable trade data surveillance of foreign affiliates operating in your jurisdictions. You might consider the CFTC’s proposal in the cross-border guidance to allow “substituted compliance” with Dodd-Frank by foreign affiliates of U.S. banks—in cooperation with foreign regulatory authorities—which provides a substantive model for regulatory cooperation over the global OTC derivatives market. While there are criticisms of certain exemptions proposed in the draft guidance, no better proposal for cross-border regulation of OTC derivatives trading by global entities has emerged so far. Because OTC markets have not been regulated nationally, much less internationally, there will be some misunderstandings and errors in international cooperation during the process of learning to regulate foreign affiliate trades. These are a relatively small price to pay for building a well-regulated global OTC derivatives market.
The G-20 meetings present an important opportunity to face the challenges of substantive regulatory cooperation, rather than adopting the mutual recognition agreements on high-level principles of regulation that the financial services industry, and even some regulators, have advocated. Mutual recognition of high-level principles during the past decade did not prevent the near-catastrophic global counterparty default cascades of 2008-09. Only timely and comprehensive surveillance of trade data and enforcement of market rules can prevent the imprudence of a few global entities from leading to an economic crisis.
Industry threats to move trades to the weakest regulatory jurisdictions should themselves be regarded as tantamount to “fragmentation of global markets.” The urging of Wall Street lawyers to their Asian clients to evade Dodd- Frank represents a threat to the rule of law nationally and to G-20 oversight generally. To give in to such threats by subordinating cross-border regulation to a principle to “avoid fragmentation of global markets” is a strategic error of the first magnitude. No economic recovery can be sustained on the basis of a regulatory regime influenced by such threats.
In May 2009, former International Monetary Fund Chief Economist Simon Johnson wrote of how the financial services oligarchy had captured U.S. regulators to block many financial reforms. The CFTC, to some extent, has resisted this capture; it would be tragic for the global economy if the G-20 helped to complete this capture.
This October, Johnson wrote of how the next global financial crisis will begin in Japan and reverberate globally. I very much hope, of course, that he is wrong. In any event, the public interest duty of G-20 finance ministers and central bankers will not be well-served by shooting the regulatory messenger if deregulation or non-regulation of the OTC derivatives market is one of the crisis triggers.